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Cardinals’ Flight Plan Reveals Team Draft Plan

2020 NFL Draft - Rounds 2 - 7 Photo by NFL via Getty Images

Pictured above: the Cardinals 3rd round pick T Josh Jones and his family celebrating.

If you haven’t as yet watched the Cardinals latest episode of Flight Plan which aired last evening, you are in for a real treat. Here is the link, icymi.

Personally, the episode had me so fired up I had to walk laps around my house, with occasional sprints to the refrigerator.

What was so astonishing to me, aside from getting some privileged glimpses into the K-Krib, seeing Steve Keim splashing around in his pool with his kids (with his eldest son later reading his own impressively elaborate scouting report of Isaiah Simmons), watching Michael Bidwill fast at work in his comfy techno den and seeing Larry Fitzgerald delivering food to homes during the throes of the pandemic, was the crystal clarity of the Cardinals’ 2020 NFL Draft plan.

What aspects of the Cardinals’ draft plan were revealed?

  1. When the Chargers took QB Justin Herbert at #6, Steve Keim shouted a “f%^& yeah!” because he knew right then (and said so) that the Cardinals would be able to draft one of the two remaining defensive studs on the board: DT Derrick Brown (Auburn) or S/LB Isaiah Simmons (Clemson). As we know the Panthers took Brown at #7 and the Cardinals selected Isaiah Simmons at #8. (excellent Combine interview of Simmons with LB Coach Billy Davis)
  2. It was very clear that on Day 2 when T Josh Jones was sliding down the draft board, he was the top ranked player remaining on the Cardinals’ draft board. Steve Keim said Jones was #21 on their big board (imagine getting the #21 player at #72). Keim had accurately calculated that the only team at the beginning of the third round who might still take a tackle was the Dolphins (even though they had already taken T Austin Jackson at #18)...but when the Dolphins selected S Brandon Jones (Texas) at #70, Keim felt assured that Jones would be available at #72 because the Ravens at #71 were pretty well set a tackle with their two Pro Bowlers LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Orlando Brown. (impressive Combine interview of Jones with OL coach Sean Kugler)
  3. Heading into Day 3, the Cardinals had already determined which two players they wanted to take in the 4th round: DT Leki Fotu and DT/DE Rashard Lawrence. Steve Keim confirmed something I expressed on the ROTB podcast with Blake Murphy, that he thought there was little to no chance to draft Fotu at pick #114 because he figured Fotu would be off the board in the “late 2nd to early 3rd round.” Thus, for the Cardinals to be able to draft Fotu in the 4th round was near as surprising as being able to draft Josh Jones in the 3rd round. (Kliff Kingsbury’s and Steve Keim’s descriptions of Fotu were illuminating)
  4. In the ROTB podcast with Blake, I speculated that the Cardinals may have had DT James Lynch (Baylor) as their principle target at #131—-the Vikings traded up to #130 to take Lynch which made me think the Vikings had a feeling the Cardinals were going to snag Lynch at #131. But, I also mentioned to Blake that it could be that the Cardinals preferred Rashard Lawrence over Lynch in that the Cardinals have a similar player to Lynch in Zach Allen (who I think is a slightly better and more versatile athlete than Lynch, but their aggressive styles are quite alike). However, right after the Leki Fotu pick was made, Kliff said that the Cardinals were hoping to take Rashard Lawrence with the next pick. (Steve Keim’s description of Lawrence’s leadership and play was fabulous)
  5. Drafting LB Evan Weaver in the 6th round at pick #202 was the plan all along and then it was like gravy on top of the earlier gravies to see RB Eno Benjamin available at pick #222.

Common denominators:

  • Every pick was a team captain in college.
  • Every pick was taken later than most pundits projected and in the cases of Josh Jones, Leki Fotu and Eno Benjamin—-much later than expected.
  • As I said on the ROTB podcast, Lindy’s Pro Football 2020 NFL Draft preview (which to me is the closest I’ve seen to Joel Buchsbaum’s old Pro Football Weekly draft guides)—-they publish their guides right after the Senior Bowl and thus do not take the Combine into consideration—-but often that’s why good football players get passed up by the Combine winning athletes. Thus, prior to the Combine this is where Lindy’s projected the Cardinals’ picks: Simmons (1st Round), Jones (2nd Round), Fotu (1st-2nd Round), Lawrence (4th Round), Weaver (2nd-3rd round) and Benjamin (3rd Round).
  • What is now evident—-the Cardinals took the top rated players on their board with every one of their picks and Steve Keim was a paragon of patience to stay put at each pick.
  • Thus, the Cardinals have all of their 2021 picks in hand, save the 4th rounder they gave the Texans in the DeAndre Hopkins trade. To come out of the 2020 draft with the picks by being able to select the top rated players on their board at each pick AND without having to make any draft say trades is a coup.

What the Cardinals’ 2020 Draft may likely have looked like has Simmons been taken earlier than at #8. (A guess based on team interest)

8. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

72. Zach Moss, RB, Utah

114. Rashard Lawrence, DT/DE, LSU

131. Evan Weaver, LB, California

202. Josh Metellus, S, Michigan St.

222. Zane Lewis, CB, Air Force

  • I think that if the Panthers had picked Simmons at #7, then they would have taken Leki Fotu at pick #64 or pick #113.
  • Notice that the Panthers took DT Derrick Brown at #7 and S Jeremy Chinn at #64 (Round 2), while the Cardinals picked S Isaiah Simmons at #8 and DT Leki Fotu at #114.
  • Thus, the Panthers came away with the top rated space eating DT, plus the second rated cover safety. And the Cardinals came away with the top rated cover safety, plus the second rated space eating DT. Two teams trying to fortify their defenses with similar plans.

The new nickname Steve Keim deserves following this off-season:

Carpe Keim.

if any NFL GM “seized the day” this off-season, Steve Keim should be at or near the very top of the list.